In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful.
The word NAZR is an Arabic word which means "an offering," in its verbal form it will mean "to offer" or "to make a spiritual vow."
Note that NAZR is used in Arabic in a totally different meaning also - "to warn," that is not in this context. Therefore, we leave that for the time.
The Glorious Qur'an has used the word "NAZR" in both meanings. We will only discuss here the first usage, i.e., which is relevant to our discussion here.
Sometimes the word NIAZ is also used in this context. This is a word from Farsi which means "need," and it is its metaphorical use in the sense of an offering.
The basic concept of NAZR is to offer something less valuable in the hope and expectation of receiving something of higher value. The "value" does not have to be material; it could just be honor and dignity. The examples below will explain this notion further.
1. In 5:27-31 the Glorious Qur'an tells the story of the two sons of the prophet Adam (peace be upon him). The two sons of Adam (Habeel and Qabeel, Anglicized names: Able and Cain) made an offering to their Lord, one was accepted and the other was rejected. The brother, whose offering was rejected, became jealous of his brother and in a rage of jealousy and frustration he killed his brother. For that Qabeel's face was darkened, he went crazy and he will bear the burden of every unlawful murder to the Day of Judgement. Note that the word for offering used in the Glorious Qur'an in this instance is Q-R-B instead of NAZR.
2. In 3:35 the Glorious Qur'an tells the story of Maryam's (Mary of the Christian scriptures) mother. When a woman of Imran said: My Lord, surely I vow to Thee (rabbi inni nazartu) what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing. However, when the child was born, it was a girl (Maryam) and the families were puzzled as to how to send a girl to the Temple. But they fulfilled the vow as they had promised their Lord. And, Maryam was dedicated to serving in the Temple under the guardianship of prophet Zakariyya (peace be upon him). Later she gave birth to Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him).
3. In 19:26 the Glorious Qur'an tells the story when Prophet Jesus is born without a father and the Jews are asking of Maryam about such an implausible situation. So eat and drink and refresh the eye. Then if you see any mortal, say: Surely I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent God (inni nazartu lir-Rahmaani sawman). So I shall not speak to any man today.
4. In the first twelve verses of Sura Dahr (chapter 76) the Glorious Qur'an tells the story of NAZR by the Ahlul Bayt (may our salams and Allah's peace be unto them). The Glorious Qur'an describes the beginning of man and the attributes of a grateful man in this chapter. One of the many attributes of a grateful and faithful person is described in verses 7 and 8: "Because they perform the vow (yufoona bin-nazri) and fear a day whereof the evil is wide-spreading, And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him."
The Hadeeth literature indicates that the Ahlul Bayt (may our salams and Allah peace be unto them all) showed the importance of Nazr by their acts more than once. The following story is recorded in many tafseer books about the revelation of these verses of sura Dahr.
There is no religiosity in Koonday. It is only social and cultural gathering.
Once the Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn, who were at that time 5 and 4 years old, fell ill. When the Prophet of Islam, missed them in the mosque, he came to Fatima Zahra's house to inquire about them. When he was told that they were sick, he suggested that both parents should take a spiritual vow (Nazr) for the children's recovery. So both Imam Ali and Fatima Zahra prayed to Allah for the recovery of Hasan and Husayn (peace be unto them all) and took a vow to fast for three consecutive days when the children became well again. The children did recover from the illness soon after. Both parents set about fulfilling their spiritual vow and fasted. When the children saw that, they also decided to fast with their parents and so did the house-maid, Fiddha. But that day there was no food in Fatima's house even for breaking the fast. So Imam Ali went out looking for work. He could not find any. But he was able to get three kg's of wool to be spun in exchange of three kg's of barley. Fatima Zahra spun the wool all day. She was only able to dispense with one kilo of it. So she took only one kilo of barley ground it into flour and prepared five loaves of bread. While they were all ready to break their fast, someone knocked at the door saying: "O people of the house of the Prophet, I am a poor man and I have nothing to eat, is there anything you could do to feed me." At this Imam Ali stood up, went to the door and gave his loaf to the man. Fatima Zahra did the same. Watching this, both children also gave their loaves and so did the maid. They broke their fast by water and retired. The next day Fatima Zahra spun another kilo of wool. So she separated one kilo of barley, ground it into flour and prepared five loaves once again. As they were ready to break their fast, once again, a voice called out from the door: "O people of the house of The Prophet, I am an orphan, I am hungry, could you feed me?" Hearing this, Imam Ali stood up and gave his loaf to the man, so did Fatima Zahra, the children and the maid. They all, once again, broke their fast by water and retired. Came the third day, Fatima Zahra spun the rest of the wool, took the remaining barley, ground it into flour and prepared five loaves. As they were ready to break the fast, a voice called from the door saying: "O people of the house of the Prophet, I am a prisoner, I am hungry, could you feed me?" Hearing this, once again, Imam Ali stood up and went to the door and gave his loaf away to the prisoner. Fatima Zahra, the children and the maid did likewise. Every time the person at the door would want to express his gratitude for the kindness, Imam Ali would say: "No, no, we are not looking for any reward from you for this act, we are doing it out of Allah's love."
Now the children had just been quite ill. And they had not eaten anything in three days. The Prophet of Islam, once again entered the house asking about the children. When he looked at them they were shaking like autumn leaves (those are the exact words in the report). Fatima Zahra told him what had been going on in the family. At that time the archangel Gabriel came down with a gift of Allah to the Prophet. That gift was the verses of Sura Insan or Dahr (chapter 76), which we quote below.
They fulfill vows and fear a day the evil of which shall be spreading far and wide. And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive. We only feed you for Allah's sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks: Surely we fear from our Lord a stern, distressful day. Therefore Allah will guard them from the evil of that day and cause them to meet with ease and happiness. And reward them, because they were patient, with garden and silk. (Glorious Qur'an, 76:7-12)
This story tells us that the Prophet of Islam, recommended to any family that if and when you are facing a difficult situation or you are distressed, you should do Nazr. In other words, take a spiritual vow that when the problem is over you would offer special prayers or invite friends and relatives for food that has been dedicated to the Ahlul Bayt in Allah's name.
The story is the guiding light for us in our lives. The family of Fatima Zahra (peace be unto her) fulfilled their Nazr, but when a more needy person came they gave away their food to him without any regard to their own needs. Glorious Qur'an has made it incumbent upon us to love the Prophet of Islam and his holy family and fashion our lives according to how they lived.
Say, (O Prophet), I do not ask you any recompense for this (the mission of Islam), except that you would love my near ones. (Glorious Qur'an, 42:23)
The NAZR of the 22nd day of the glorious month of Rajab is done as a result of this love for the holy Ahlul Bayt (may our salams and Allah peace be unto them all).
There is a Hadeeth attributed to our sixth Imam, Imam Jafar Sadiq (as). Once the Imam was walking in the streets of Madinah with some of his companions. He suddenly stopped and looked to his companions and inquired about the date. They all said that that was the 22nd day of Rajab. The Imam then said: "If anyone of you is facing a difficulty of any kind in this world, you should prepare some sweets and set them up in a clay pot (Koonday in Urdu) and dedicate that in a Nazr to my person. You should then pray to your Lord using my WASEELA. Allah will, if He wills, remove your difficulty. However, if your problem is not resolved then you would come to me on the Day of Judgement and complain to me."
One other story of NAZR must be told here which will explain another point. It is not mentioned in the Glorious Qur'an but it is well attested by almost all the historians. The Prophet's grandfather, Abdul Muttalib lay asleep once in the proximity of the Holy Kaaba. He had a vision that someone was calling on him to dig up the well of Zamzam which had been buried by a previous tribe of Mekkah in the sand. He woke up and called his friends and relatives to come and help him. People just laughed at his "foolish" plan and refused to help. At that time Abdul Muttalib had only one son named Harith. So he and his son set upon searching for the well of Zamzam. A point came when they were totally exhausted of thirst and fatigue and was on the verge of dying. Abdul Muttalib thought to himself that if he had more sons to help him, the situation would not have come to that. He then took a spiritual vow (NAZR) that if he had ten sons, he would offer one of them for sacrifice in the Holy House of Allah (Kaaba).
Abdul Muttalib eventually did have ten sons (actually he had four more after the completion of this story, as follows). He remembered his vow. He discussed it with his sons. The youngest at that time named Abdullah, was only sixteen years old. They all agreed with their father that he must fulfill his vow. Lots were drawn on the sons' names. Abdullah's name came out in the draw. Abdullah forthrightly agreed to become the sacrificial son. But his maternal uncles, when heard of this, ran all the way from Madinah and tried to stop Abdul Muttalib from the slaughter of his son. Lots were then drawn again, this time against Abdullah's name and some camels. Every time Abdullah's name would come out in the draw until the number of camels was gradually raised to one hundred. Finally Abdullah was ransomed by the slaughter of one hundred camels. The meat was left for the people of Makkah to consume.
Soon after this, Abdullah was married to lady Aminah daughter of Wahb. Abdul Muttalib also married the same night the sister of Wahb. Lady Amina conceived our Prophet but before he was born, Abdullah suddenly died. Abdul Muttalib's latest marriage also produced a son named Hamza, and later three more.